The Ongoing NETTR Discussion: Agency and Authority
We live in tumultuous, troubled times. They are breaking down the old stories we used to use to understand ourselves and the world around us. New discourses are emerging. NETTER is one such.
He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” Matthew 13:52
I heard it said once that you don’t know what you think until you speak it out loud or take the time to write it down. I find for me, this is very much true. We are living in a tumultuous time where old orthodoxies, the common wisdom, and even regime propaganda are beginning to break down. Cracks are showing in the various narratives used to explain and understand the world in which we live. The accepted set of solutions are no longer producing the results they once used to, and in many instances can be seen to be making things worse.
Unfortunately, good answers often never emerge fully formed. Sometimes you just have to start speaking. Then, once spoken, it is out there and you can see and hear what was said. Does it resonate? Is there harmony? Or, is there still discordant notes, things that don’t quite line up? My last piece — “Towards a Theology of NETTR” — was a struggle to get out. At times it was like wrestling with mist, wanting to say something, sensing it needed to be said, but then, 8,500 words later, felt like it was not quite finished, not quite right. A fellow member of out Christian Ghetto discussion group,, wrote a thoughtful reply, one, which, if you have not read it, you should take a moment and do so:
The funny thing was, after reading his response, I didn’t really disagree. Nor did I really think that I had missed the mark. What was I missing? What was I not seeing? Then it hit me. I realized that the thing I was arguing was not really the argument that I wanted to make when I started out.
I realized that I had fallen into a trap. We sometimes forget that we really are enframed in a world defined by managerialism and technique. It is so ubiquitous, that sometimes we don’t even catch ourselves when we start thinking like managers. I think this is what I did, and it tripped me up. This is why reacting to your opponents can get you into trouble. Many who take unto themselves the label “conservative” seem to police the right as a matter of policy. They do so for numerous reasons, some of which we talked about in the previous piece. When I first heard the phrase “no enemies to the right” it had a power to it. It said very clearly, “We will not do the regime’s work for it by throwing our own onto the pyre.” This is what Johann communicated so well in his piece by suggesting that instead of “no enemies to the right” that we practice, “no feeding the left.” In hearing that, I don’t disagree. But then I realized what I think we were both trying to do: establish a policy framework for not handing the left, the regime, easy victories by doing their work of personal destruction for them.
As I thought about my piece and Johann’s together, I realized that what I wanted to argue, what I should have argued, what I tried to argue, is that what we need is a not a new and better set of policies with which to fight the left. If you battle technique based managerialism with better “based” techniques, “based” managerialism, you are not actually battling the system, you are reinforcing it.
What we need is a new type of leader. “No enemies to the right” or “no feeding the left” should be a set of tactics employed as needed, when needed and not put in place as the basis for a policy prescription. This is what I was arguing through the last portion of the piece: not so much a theology of NETTR per se, but a theological foundation for the kinds of leaders who will not foolishly throw their own under the bus. Wise, godly leaders will be men capable of doing hard things when they need to do them. That means sometimes protecting disagreeable, foolish and unsavory people, who, in more settled times, might demand a completely different response from the same wise, godly leader. I had to laugh at myself because I spend so much time pointing out the nature and effects of technique, its strengths and dangers and yet I missed catching myself falling into the managerial trap of treating NETTR like a policy rather that what it should be: a tool, a tactic, a strategy. It is available when necessary, but by no means need be established as the one single way for us to deal with our own radicals.
So what are we looking for? As I said, we are looking for a different kind of leader. We need men of authority, not managers and experts. It has become abundantly clear over the last few years that we are experiencing a crisis in authority. We hunger for men of the exception who are capable of remaking the world around them, who can call forth the “miracle of law.” We need men of wisdom. Men of tactics and strategy. Not men of policy and procedure. I read somewhere a while back, I wish I could remember the source, a piece which made the observation that for all of America’s inventiveness, its industrial and economic successes, that it has not really produced any history defining military tacticians. The author of this piece cited one general who should qualify, but he is often passed over because he was on the losing side of the Civil War: General Robert E. Lee.
The article asked why has America not produced great tactical generals? In part, the answer was that the industrial society into which America was transforming was shaped around the bourgeoisie and their managerial skills. This affects the way that they are taught and trained. Managers have proven themselves quite adept at building a global empire. Managerialism demands managers. We define “leadership” largely in managerial terms today. Managers write, implement and follow policy. They grind you down one policy at time until you conform and allow yourself to be shaped by the system. They don’t win battles with tactical verve, creative flair and competency. They don’t win by force of character and personal genius. Managers win by harnessing resources, consistency, setting a high floor, and by developing reliable, complex systems. They manage logistics, supply chains. Command and control. All the components of warfare on an industrial scale.
This seems to be the dividing line: on one side there is the power of system and on the other side there is the power of personal authority. We have been sold on the necessity of system because it raises the floor and produces consistent, efficient results at a relatively high level. But managerial systems also lower the ceiling. They guard against, and even smother the free wheeling, free thinking, man of action who does things by the force of his character. We guard against persons, the lows; but we also guard against the highs by means of our systems. NETTR has the potential to become an inflexible managerial policy prescription that would in the end undermine our resistance just as much as those who throw right wing radicals to the regime wolves as a matter of policy. But in the right hands, as a tactic, executed in the right way at the right time, it has the potential to rob the left of the power of the ratchet.
So, this begs the question, what do I mean by a person of “authority?”
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